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Santalum album
'Sandalwood' by Köhler
Santalum album
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Magnoliopsida
Order: Santalales
Family: Santalaceae
Genus: Santalum
Species: S. album
Binomial name
Santalum album

Santalum album is a small tropical tree of the Santalaceae family, the most commonly known source of sandalwood. This species has been utilised, cultivated and traded for many years, some cultures placing great significance on its fragrant and medicinal qualities. For these reasons it is has been extensively exploited, to the point where the wild population is vulnerable to extinction. It still commands high prices for its essential oil, but due to lack of sizable trees it is no longer used for fine woodworking as before. The plant is widely cultivated and long lived, although harvest is viable after 40 years.



Flowers in Hyderabad, India.

The height of the evergreen tree is between 4 and 9 metres. They may live to one hundred years of age. The tree is variable in habit, usually upright to sprawling, and may intertwine with other species. The plant parasitises the roots of other tree species, with a haustorium adaptation on its own roots, but without major detriment to its hosts. An individual will form a non-obligate relationship with a number of other plants. Up to 300 species (including its own) can host the tree's development - supplying macronutrients phosphorus, nitrogen and potassium, and shade - especially during early phases of development. It may propagate itself through wood suckering during its early development, establishing small stands. The reddish or brown bark can be almost black and is smooth in young trees, becoming cracked with a red reveal. The heartwood is pale green to white as the common name indicates. The leaves are thin, opposite and ovate to lanceolate in shape. Glabrous surface is shiny and bright green, with a glaucous pale reverse. Fruit is produced after three years, viable seeds after five. These seeds are distributed by birds.


The nomenclature for other 'sandalwoods' and the taxonomy of the genus are derived from this species historical and widespread use. Many languages contain a word that describes this specific plant. S. album is included in the family Santalaceae, which is placed in the order Santalales, and is commonly known as White or East Indian Sandalwood. It is the type species of the genus Santalum, nominated by Linnaeus in the first botanical description; this was published in Species Plantarum in 1753 with the note "Habitat in India".[2] The species name, Santalum ovatum, used by Robert Brown in Prodromus Florae Novae Hollandiae (1810) was described as a synonym of this species by Alex George in 1984.[3] The epithet album refers to the 'white' of the heartwood.

The species was the first to be known as Sandalwood, although it is often appended with a description of a region. Other species in the genus Santalum, such as the AustralianS. spicatum, are distinguished by a regional name.


It is a hemi-parasitic tree, occurring in semi-arid areas from India to the South Pacific and the northern coast of Australia. Originally endemic to eastern Indonesia, northern Australia and tropical areas of the Indian peninsula. It is now indigenous to deciduous, dry forests of China, India, Hawaii, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, the Philippines and Northwestern Australia, although the extent of human dispersal to these regions is not known.


S. album occurs in coastal dry forests at sealevel and dunes or cliff tops up to 700 m. It normally grows in sandy or stony red soils, but a wide range of soil types are inhabited. This habitat has a temperature range from 0 to 38°C and annual rainfall between 500 and 3000 mm.



The species is threatened by over-exploitation and degradation to habitat through altered land use; fire, agriculture and land-clearing are the factors of most concern. To preserve this vulnerable resource from over-exploitation, legislation protects the species, and cultivation is researched and developed.[4] [5] [6]

The Indian government has placed a ban on the export of the timber.[1]


Young sapling

S. album has been the primary source of sandalwood and the derived oil. These often hold an important place within the societies of its naturalised distribution range. The high value of the plant has led to attempts at cultivation, this has increased the distribution range of the plant. The ISO Standard for the accepted characteristics of this essential oil is ISO 3518:2002.[7] The long maturation period and difficulty in cultivation have been restrictive to extensive planting within the range. Harvest of the tree involves several curing and processing stages, also adding to the commercial value. These wood and oil have high demand and are an important trade item in the regions of:

Utilisation of all the Australian Santalum species in has been extensive; Santalum spicatum was extensively harvested and exported from Western Australia during colonisation, this was used as a less expensive alternative to this species. Commercial Indian Sandalwood plantations are now in full operations in Kununurra, Western Australia.[8]
The use of S. album in India is noted in their literature for over two thousand years. It has use as wood and oil in religious practices. It also features as a construction material in temples and elsewhere. The Indian government has banned the export of the species to reduce the threat by over-harvesting. In the southern Indian state of Karnataka, all trees of greater than a specified girth are the property of the state. Cutting of trees, even on private property, is regulated by the Forest Department.[9] The infamous forest bandit Veerappan was involved in the illegal felling of sandalwood trees from forests.
Sri Lanka
An extensive history of use.

The harvesting of sandalwood is preferred to be of trees that are advanced in age. Saleable wood can, however, be of trees as young as seven years. The entire plant is removed rather than cut to the base, as in coppiced species. The extensive removal of S. album over the past century led to increased vulnerability to extinction.[1]

See also


  1. ^ a b c Asian Regional Workshop (1998). Santalum album. 2006. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN 2006. Retrieved on 2007-02-08.
  2. ^ Santalum (IPNI)
  3. ^ "Santalum ovatum". Australian Plant Name Index (APNI), IBIS database. Centre for Plant Biodiversity Research, Australian Government.  George, A.S. & Hewson, H.J. in George, A.S. (Ed) (1984), Flora of Australia 22: 61, 63, Fig. 18D, Map 71
  4. ^ University of Queensland site's detail
  5. ^ Australian Arid Lands Botanic Garden - Plants: Sandalwood, Santalum spicatum
  6. ^ WA Gov site's detail
  7. ^ ISO 3518:2002
  8. ^ Indian Sandalwood Plantations in Australia. Tropical Forest Services (TFS) Ltd.
  9. ^ Karnataka Forest Department Rules

External links



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